Access to accurate information quickly is often the goal with each search query we conduct. It typically involves a number of keywords strung together in the form of a sentence or question — and we hope the right answer lies on the other end of it.
But what if there was a better, faster way to get where we need to go?
Search engines have tried to make it easier for us to navigate their index by implementing search ‘operators’ (sometimes called ‘parameters’) which will direct the algorithm to include or exclude certain results, which will save us the frustration, time and energy in performing multiple search queries when we only need to conduct one.
Let’s see what they are!
If you are familiar with a website’s title tag, you would know it is often a succinct description of what a page is about. With this in mind, it can be extremely helpful to only search for websites with a certain phrase in their title tag, as opposed to keywords found in other areas of a website, which is what this search operator does.
For example, if you are looking for a list of the most popular finance blogs, you would input:
Other examples could include:
- Submit a guest post
- Apply for our scholarship
- Advertise with us
These queries are much more likely to produce the results you actually intended to find, as opposed to a normal search which would include websites who just want to appear for such terms, as well as those who mention them passively.
Have you ever wished for a certain website to have a search bar? Well, thanks to this operator, they effectively do.
Utilizing this search operator allows you to accomplish multiple tasks — among them — search for anything on a website.
For example, the popular blog zenhabits is a fairly large website which would take a while to scroll through to find a certain page about the topic of sleep. Instead of doing so, we can just input:
Which will show us every page that includes the term.
Another productive use case for this operator is checking what pages of a website have been indexed by search engines. By simply including the domain in the operator, it will reveal every page that has already been crawled and indexed. Some newer pages may not appear in the results, since the robots have yet to re-crawl the site and find the recent additions.
So the next time someone asks “how do I search this site?” or “is my website indexed?”, you know what to do.
There are numerous websites which have a sole purpose of displaying competitors, alternatives and similar providers to a certain company. While they can be helpful and well intentioned, they are secondary to what a search engine can find.
For example, if we want to discover all sites similar to the popular technology site Engadget, we would input:
This would result in a list of related companies including Wired, Slashdot, TechCrunch, TNW, cNet and ExtremeTech to name but a handful. The reason this method is optimal is due to search engines continuously crawling the web, allowing them to provide the most relevant and up-to-date results — moreso than any manually curated resource which can become outdated and incomplete over time.
It may be self explanatory, but clarification is never a bad thing — when you need to find a particular file — a .pdf whitepaper, .doc report, .ppt slide deck etc. a search operator like this is integral to locating it in the most efficient way possible.
For example, if you were looking for a study on high intensity interval training, you could input:
This would allow users to bypass all news articles, opinions and commentary while effectively getting directly to the source.
This operator can be helpful for those working in most professional fields like research, marketing, finance & science, but it’s a good idea to keep it in your tool-chest should the need for it ever arise.
5. ” “
Perhaps our favorite search operator of all, the quotation marks indicate to the search engine you only want results that include the exact phrase you have specified. If relevance is of utmost importance, this parameter is the one for you.
For example, if we want to find every site that mentions the term ‘I understand SEO a bit’, all we need to do is input:
Which, in this instance, only found two webpages in the world which contain that exact phrase somewhere on the page.
There are a multitude of reasons why this operator can be helpful and put to good use, from suspecting you have been plagiarized, to being curious if your brand has been mentioned somewhere, to even finding the title of a song you only know some of the lyrics to — there are plenty of scenarios that are made possible with the exact phrase match search operator.
Does a certain phrase or keyword present itself with a particular search query? Do you need to make a search independent of certain association? This is where the minus sign operator comes into play.
The premise is simple — remove any results which mention a particular keyword when this query is made. For example, if we want to do a search for Penn Jillette, but not show any results which include his partner Teller, we would input:
This ensures we only see results about Penn and nothing about Teller. Other cases could involve overlap on a certain topic or common misconceptions linked to a particular issue.
While these kinds of searches can be few and far between, when they are needed, they save a lot of time and frustration.
While there are a few other search operators that currently exist, we believe the ones listed above are the most helpful and pragmatic when it comes to using them in your everyday life, as well as during your profession as a SEO analyst.
Sebastian Hovv is the CEO & founder of SEO 101 and the author of the book, The Little White Book of SEO. With over 13 years of experience in SEO, he has become an expert in the field and a contributor to the world of online marketing education through the online courses and learning material SEO 101 provides.